Sometimes you don't find out about a good TV show until partway through its run, or maybe you don't get a certain channel, or even worse, for whatever reason, your DVR fails to record your favorite show. Thanks to the Internet, there are many ways to catch up, and maybe even ditch cable. Watch our Insider Secret video to see some of our favorite ways to get TV shows online, and then come back here for the links.
Free TV on the Web
There are still many popular shows that don't put their content online. At least not legally. And this ain't about piracy, so put The Pirate Bay down for a moment. Still, a large number of shows are available legally online. Here are some of my favorite resources to find them.
Step one, go to the network's Web site. More and more channels put full episodes on their site. Look in the video tabs and find a link, usually called "full episodes." That may be the best way right there. All the networks stream their shows with commercial interruptions.
Another resource is a video aggregator site like Hulu.com. Hulu was launched as a cooperative venture of TV networks to provide easy access to movies and TV shows. Although anything you find there is likely to also be at the networks Web site, it's convenient if you want to watch shows from multiple networks at one site. The shows here also have commercials, and for some unfathomable reason they don't keep all the back episodes around. It's also U.S. only.
One of my favorite portals to check for TV shows is AOL video. Yep good old AOL. They have partnerships with several video suppliers, like Hulu for instance. You can find a wealth of back episodes from major shows there.
Another good portal is Fancast. The service is operated by Comcast and is meant to tell you all the places you can watch any show. When you search for a show, they give you any streaming versions they have access to, plus a schedule of airings on TV and any DVD versions available.
If you're a Netflix subscriber, another place to find old TV show episodes is through the Netflix streaming service. Your account allows you to stream many TV shows that are out on DVD. You'll have to have Internet Explorer or a dedicated device like the Roku Netflix box to use the service.
Another good free streaming provider is Joost. You can download the application from Joost.com, though they soon plan to make it a plug-in that works in your Web browser. It gives you free access to clips and full shows from several different channels.
When you have to break down and pay
If the show you want isn't streaming anywhere, you may have to buy the show. The bad news is that costs money. The good news is you don't have to watch commercials.
Apple's iTunes lets you download many TV shows for $1.99 an episode or a whole season sometimes at a slight discount. The shows will play on your computer or on Apple mobile devices like the iPhone or on Apple's Apple TV. They won't play on non-Apple mobile devices though.
Amazon's Video on Demand lets you buy shows, too. Once you buy a show, you can stream them in your Web browser on Mac or Windows any time you want. You can also download your shows to a Windows machine and move them to several portable devices. You can also have the shows sent to your TiVo, which is pretty cool.
And there's also BitTorrent. Yeah I know, we said no piracy. But BitTorrent.com, the official makers of BitTorrent, provides TV shows through their Torrent Entertainment network that are completely legal.
You also can get TV shows from your game console. The Xbox 360 sells TV shows in its Marketplace, some in high-definition. And Sony is touting Movies and TV shows at the push of a button for the PS3 and PSP.
That covers the major options out there, but there are still others. To sum up, you have approximately three options when attempting to catch up on a TV show.
- Stream for free, but watch commercials.
- Download for pay but have no commercials.
- Or break the law and pirate it and risk going to court.